Physiophenomenology in retrospect: Memory reliably reflects physiological arousal during a prior threatening experience

Cade McCall, Lea K Hildebrandt, Boris Bornemann, Tania Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Psychologists have long studied links between physiology and subjective feelings, but little is known about how those links are preserved in memory. Here we examine this question via arousal, a subjective feeling with strong physiological correlates. Using virtual reality, we immersed participants in a threatening scene (Room 101) where they confronted a variety of disturbing events. Later, participants watched the scene on a desktop computer while continuously rating how aroused they remembered feeling. Analyses of those time series revealed that retrospective reports were coherent with participants' unique patterns in physiological arousal (skin conductance and heart rate) during the original events. Analyses further revealed that coherence did not depend on simulating physiological arousal and that it was particularly strong among individuals high in interoceptive accuracy. These data demonstrate that memory encodes physiological information during emotional episodes such that individuals' recall of arousal reliably reflects physiological signals as they unfolded over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)60-70
Number of pages11
JournalConsciousness and cognition
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 2015

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